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SPADA 2011: for the children

David Kleeman is President of the Chicago-based American Center for Children and Media, an executive roundtable and professional development hub that promotes exchange of ideas, expertise, and information as a means for building quality in children’s media. Its motto is “Anticipate, Analyse, Act”.

But Kleeman’s presence at SPADA was focused more on the Prix Jeunesse International children’s film festival held bi-annually in Munich, Germany. His two sessions, Get Animated and Laugh and the World Laughs With You, were both centred around screenings of a variety of short films or clips from the Prix Jeunesse. The screenings of clips (from Asia, the Middle East, South America and Europe) took up 40 to 45 minutes of each hour-long session.

The animation session was notable for the fact that quality, effective and popular animation need not be high-budget. As ever, story and passion in film-making will trump any soulless technical sophistication. (But then of course, if one can have passion AND a big budget…)

Kleeman noted how children’s animation from around the world is full of metaphor, and often highly political. In the USA however, there are many taboos in children’s TV – a Danish film on how to make sushi was banned in the US because a young girl is seen using (responsibly) a large knife. Kleeman also commented on how public broadcasting in the USA has a reputation for having “gone soft”, with less risk-taking (A familiar story?); but that film-makers were now clawing back the right to take risks.

Some of the clips were made by children. Kleeman pointed out that kids want to tell stories about bullying, poverty and puberty. By using animation their identity is protected – they can tell their stories, while still feeling safe doing it.

The “Laugh” programme attempted to answer the questions of what makes kids around the world laugh; and whether this varies with age and culture around the world. Interspersed with the clips were shots of small groups of 4 to 6 children watching TV and observing their reactions. It has to be said that the samples we saw would hardly qualify as a statistically significant sampling in scientific terms, (although we only saw a few of the 153 children observed around the world), so it was perhaps not surprising that some conclusions were impossible to find. Some things were obvious: younger children did not find more sophisticated material funny, and neither did older children enjoy simpler humour. The programme compilers were also unable to explain the reasons behind the differences in reactions from kids from different cultures – why for example, European and South American kids found one clip funny while Asian kids did not.

Nevertheless, there was one example where the results were absolutely clear: younger children were shown a portion of an Argentinian programme aimed at suggesting teenagers consider the risks involved in sexual activity. The responses of young children to scenes of kissing were observed – and for the only time, the results were unmistakeable. Kids in European countries thought nothing of the on-screen kissing, while children in Australia and the USA laughed in embarrassment and turned away, often trying to cover other children’s eyes! Perhaps this reflects the same cultural difference that results in opposing attitudes to censorship in each area – in Europe, sexual activity on screen is regarded as quite normal but violence is much more heavily censored; while in America, extraordinary levels of violence seem to be tolerated on screen but sexual activity is much more proscribed. One can’t help but wonder which is the healthier attitude?

Kleeman’s other main concern was to promote the Prix Jeunesse, which is unique in that it charges no registration fee, and all attendees are able to partake in the judging process for the festival’s awards as well as in the various screenings and discussions.

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